Judiciary

Government email retention policies

The Legislature still has not weighed in on local government agencies’ email retention policies. The Legislative Commission on Data Privacy held a hearing on the issue in late 2017, but there still has not been any legislation adopted. This issue stems from late 2016, when the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office announced a new policy of deleting emails after 30 days. This announcement was coupled with a countywide administrative order where all county emails would be deleted after six months. Hennepin County is not the first government entity to create this kind of policy: Saint Paul reduced its email storage policy from three years to six months; Anoka County keeps its emails for three months; Carver County keeps its for six years. Hennepin County’s move raised the ire of government transparency advocates who worry the policy will decrease openness and reduce public scrutiny. The county argues this is a cost-saving measure that could save millions on data storage costs. There could be bills aimed at standardizing or altering the amount of time government entities are required to save emails. There have been a few bills introduced on the topic, including SF 2026, SF 1719, and HF 1316.

Offender health care contract

During the 2017 Legislative Session, the Legislature only partially funded the offender health care contract. The Department of Corrections requested, and the Governor recommended, allocating $22.8 million for the biennium to fund a sharp rise in constitutionally required health care costs. However, the final omnibus judiciary bill only contained $11.4 million, leaving the second year without funding. The bill also required the department to solicit bids from five health care companies and choose the best offer. The department must then report various information to the committee about why it chose the vendor it did. The Judiciary Committee will have to allocate funding for this contract this session.

Protester Bill

Last session, the Judiciary Committee passed a bill that increases the penalties against protesters who break certain laws. These bills were initially part of the omnibus judiciary bill, but were dropped from the bill in favor of other priorities.

The bill makes it a gross misdemeanor to intentionally interfere with traffic on a public highway on airport property, or entering or exiting or on a freeway. The bill also increased the penalty from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor for restricting passenger access to a transit vehicle, without force or violence or the threat of it.

The bills are aimed at organizers of protests that occurred in Minneapolis and Saint Paul between 2015 and 2016, especially those organized by Black Lives Matter. These protests shut down I-94, delayed traffic at a terminal at the MSP airport, inconvenienced people at the Mall of America, and shut down a light rail line. Proposals aimed at toughening laws against demonstrators have been introduced in many other states, including: North Dakota, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, Colorado, Virginia, and Washington State.

There seems to be support to stop protesting from occurring on freeways. Many people support the right of people to protest, but worry about the effects that blocking highways could have on public safety. This could impede ambulance traffic, law enforcement responding to other crimes, or put the demonstrators themselves in danger.

Opponents of the bill point to the chilling effect this kind of bill could have on Minnesotans’ constitutionally protected right to free speech. Others argue that these penalties are far too strong for the crimes committed. The penalties associated with infringing on someone’s ability to get on or off a transit vehicle are as severe as domestic assault or malicious punishment of a child. They also point out that there are numerous other laws that are available to law enforcement for when demonstrators break the law.

DWI loophole

Under current DWI law, huffing air duster cans does not lead to DWI charges as the active chemical compounds are not listed in Minnesota DWI law. The chemical, 1-difluoroethane (DFE), is used to clean keyboards and electronics. Unfortunately, some use the chemical refrigerant to get a high and this has had tragic consequences. After a fatal automobile accident, a Rosemount man brought this hole in Minnesota’s DWI laws to his senator’s attention and is hoping this will lead to a change in the laws during the 2018 session.

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